This article was originally posted on March 4, 2015 on CarLustBlog.com. Only the intro has been tweaked.
♪ The stars are out tonight
The moon is shining down on me
With rays of pure delight
And I’ll be spendin’
♪ 24/7 in my 911
And I ain’t gonna work
24/7 in my 911
On a highway to heaven
It’s the time of my life… ♫
Porsches, particularly 911s, are typical car-lust fodder for the masses. That’s OK, it’s earned it. It has also ended up being disliked for a number of reasons. That’s OK, it’s earned it. But as you read on about the following example of Stuttgart’s icon -in its polarizing 996 incarnation- you’ll see why this is a machine to lust after.
Back in the 90s, while Uncle D lived in Chicago, he oftentimes let me know on his visits to this magical place called the Chicago Auto Show, which, of course I could never attend, being in Chicago and all that. One year, around the turn of the Millennium, Uncle D sent me some new car brochures. Among them was the then-new Porsche 911s. I was smitten! Here in my hands was the brochure of the 911 of the future, complete with cutout pics. While I was very much aware of Porsches and 911s, I didn’t know anything about its previous air-cooled brethren, its lack of full evolution throughout the model run; I just thought it was the coolest thing ever.
So much so that I drew it. And a classmate liked it so much that he asked me to draw it again… on his boxy, wheeled bookbag (a Tripper, I think). With liquid paper. I accepted his challenge, and while I almost messed it up I pulled it off. I can’t remember if I charged him for it. No matter. I was proud. Hey Alberto, ¿lo tienes todavía (do you still have it)?
I also spent considerable amount of time playing this game:
It came complete with those crazy Porsche dynamics. That’s a Turbo on the cover.
Time passed and my interest in cars shifted. When the 997 came out, I actually thought the design went backwards, with the 996 still looking futuristic. Then I continued with other things in mind. From time to time I’ve rekindled my liking to Porsches, not necessarily 911s only. The classics have definitely become my favorites, but so has everyone else’s. The 997s quickly grew on me. But what about the 996? Have I merely discarded it as a nostalgia icon from my elementary school days? I got to thinking about them when I saw one on the street: an early narrow body 996 with the egg-yolk headlamps with a bit of questionable bodykit pieces on it. But there was some elegance worthy of admiration, even if I tend to prefer my Porsches like I prefer my women: with hip.
It’s hard to pick a category to talk about the 996. Let’s start with what we see. I’ve already stated my positive 10-year-old impressions. Back then I wouldn’t have fathomed why anyone would find fault in the design. 911 purists did, stating that the front end is too similar to a Porsche Boxster. The design for the 996 was penned before the Boxster came along, but it was decided that the Boxster would inherit its older brother’s (new) face. Besides, I actually like the Boxster and the fact that there’s family resemblance. Lastly, to anyone that disses the early fried-egg headlamps of the 911s, may I remind you that the Porsche 911 GT1 Evo and the 911 GT1-98 racecars, and the road-legal versions -the 911 GT1 Straßenversion (Street Version)-, have ‘em, and they were definitely no slouches on or off the track (more info on these beasts found here)!
90s styling cue: no straight lines whatsoever. No, they did not all come with that steering wheel.
Another thing we also see, more often than the outside, it’s the interior. This too is all-new, and this too has received its fair share of criticism from purists, again with the Boxster connection (this may have a bit more merit, because if you pony up for the 911 to begin with, you don’t want to spend your time looking at the very similar surroundings of the relatively cheaper Boxster). Whether or not one finds it dated today is entirely subjective, but there’s no denying that it’s more practical and ergonomically friendly, which is a plus in its favor. While I don’t know the benefits of floor-mounted pedals of previous generations (and VW Beetles), they did look nifty and I sorta miss them here. At least the left-side ignition switch’s still there.
Purists play ominous orchestral music when they see this engine.
There’s another topic of discussion, but it’s one that cannot be seen, and yet it’s one of the most controversial features of the 996: the water-cooled engine, called the M96. Water-cooling is nothing new to Porsche, but the 911 had fared so well without it, why the change? Because the rest of the world had changed, both from a social and economic perspective. If the 911 was to keep existing, Porsche had to bite the bullet and forgo tradition in order to meet ever-toughening noise and emission regulations. It’s better to have a water-cooled 911 than no 911 at all, right? On the upside, the 911 now had 4 valves per cylinder, with variable valve timing on the intake side, called VarioCam. But leave it to Porsche to try and add their unique flavor to things. The result is a socially-responsible engine (relatively speaking) that still manages to stir the emotions of their owners while driving. Well, it tried. As an added bonus, this engine, coupled with the comfortable interior, as well as being lighter, more rigid, and with a (relatively) composed chassis than the 993, made the 996s into great daily drivers. Such are the merits of starting carte-blanche, design-wise, inside and out. Obviously, when it first came out, the press loved it.
You had a variety of flavors to choose from:
-Carrera: Your, ahem, standard 911. Convertible available.
-Carrera 4: AWD. 143 pounds lighter than the new-for-’02 Carrera 4S. Convertible available.
-Carrera 4S: Over $13K more expensive than a Carrera. Considered a Turbo but without the turbocharging (and engine block and price) and borrows a lot from it: […] the suspension, all-wheel-drive system, lower rear-quarter-panel louvers, 18-inch wheels, and 13-inch vented cross-drilled four-wheel disc brakes.[…] Features unique to the 4S include a rear glass-reinforced plastic decklid, a reflector strip that connects the taillights, and an exclusive front spoiler. Self-rising spoiler similar but not the same as other 911s. Convertible available in ’04.
-Targa: Available for the 2002 model year. Continues the all-glass roof scheme of the 993. Two and AWD available, as well as Tiptronic.
-Turbo: Appeared for the New Millennium. 5th-gen Turbo. (Only available with) AWD and twin-turbocharging. Over $30K more than the Carrera 4S. Got the “face-lift” look two years before the rest of the 911 line. A convertible was available in model year ‘04, as well as the optional Tiptronic transmission… if you go for that sort of thing. The ’02-onwards X50-option-equipped ones had more power and built to handle it. The Turbo S, both coupe and convertible, had the X50 option as standard as well as the Porsche Carbon-Ceramic Brakes (PCCB). Turbo S convertible also available.
GT3s at play. Courtesy of EVO Magazine’s photographer Dean Smith. Which GT3 is best? Read here.
-GT3: The purest of the breed. Not the same engines as your regular 911s. The second-gen 996 GT3 is a bit wilder. U.S. sales started in ’04.
The wheels and stripes also come in blue.
-GT3 RS: ‘RS’ means ‘RennSport’ in German/‘Racing Sport’ in English. The ultimate GT3, with so many goodies inside and out to set it apart from your, ahem, standard GT3. Not sold in U.S. or Canada.
-GT2: Available for the 2002 model year. Twin-turbocharged version of the GT3. But RWD.
That’s what the factory had to offer. If you wanted more, there was not only the aftermarket but also tuner shops as well, with names like Ruf, Gemballa, Roock, TechArt, Cargraphic, Strosek, 9ff, Sportec, Hamann, etc., to name a few. Racecar versions were available depending on the class: GT2, GT3, GT3 Cup, GT3 R, GT3 RS, GT3 RSR.
BTW, if one is so inclined you can get the GT3 look for your, ahem, plebeian 996, called the Aerokit. I’ve seen plenty of ‘em equipped with that kit. One more thing about the convertibles: it seems they all came with a removable aluminum hardtop.
Carrera 4S and Targa pin from the 2002 North American International Auto Show
As you may have picked up, the 2002 model year brought new versions of the 996. It’s also the year that the standard models got revised inside and out. The 911 line-up got not only fresh sheetmetal and wheels, but also more power, going from 3.4L to 3.6L –with VarioCam Plus-, as well as revised many underhood improvements (engine internals, exhaust, fuel delivery, sill, roof, floorpan reinforcement; increased torsional rigidity). It also had Porsche’s first endeavor in cupholders for the 911, as well as a glove box. Heated glass was adopted for the rear window on convertible tops.
996s are now considered bargains of the sports car world, as far as sportscars –particularly 911s- are concerned. But this is more than just the stigma of being a water-cooled, Boxster-look-a-like, cost-cutting exercise holding them back. This model remained in production far longer than the 993, and sold really, really well, like 175,000+ units-well.
Things to look out for include rotten radiators on the front, leaking rear main seal (RMS), and intermediate shaft (IMS) failure. The RMS is a bit common, but doesn’t plague all 996s. The latter (long story short: internal grease dries off), while catastrophic if it happens (and that’s a pretty big and expensive if), is said to affect a very low percentage of 996s, but the Internet does what it does best and blows it out of proportion –perhaps rightly so (complete with dismal views on how Porsche dealt with these situations, but that’s another topic). Purists label the M96 (and later M97) as ticking time bombs, because as we all know, Porsche engines of the past were the benchmark of reliability (Sarcasm). Visit Pelican Parts’ webpage for more details on common engine failures, which most have solutions. Even Jalopnik advertised wrote an article about a preventive fix to the problem (As expected from a machine with such a strong fan-base). As with any used-car purchase, look for the best, well-cared-for examples (service history is always a plus) and generally steer clear of those too-good-to-be-true bargains.
Loving that body kit. Info on these cars here.
I’ll be honest with you: Given the chance, the 996 would not be my first 911 to choose from (I got my reasons). But if I were to become a 996 owner, I wouldn’t complain one bit. I’ve found an article pitting the 996 vs its successor, the 997. In it, the 996 hold its own quite well, asking the question if a used 997 is twice the car as a 996, given the price difference. The 997 is a great machine, but if you have a 996, or considering of getting one, you shouldn’t get an inferiority complex for the later generations. I wouldn’t. In fact, without the blank canvas that was the 996, its teething problems with the water-cooled engines, its styling criticisms, all of which Porsche addressed throughout the model’s production run, not only wouldn’t there be a 997 to apparently improve upon it, the 911 nameplate as a whole wouldn’t have made well into the New Millennium.
Silver Carrera from tradebit.org
Targa pic: http://www.parts-specs.com
GT3 RS pic: Flickr
2002 NAIAS pin pic: eBay.
996 interior pic and Carera 4S pic: VW Vortex.com
Watercooled engine pic: http://www.classicdriver.com
Need For Speed Porsche Unleashed pic: http://xgnclangamers.forumotions.net
GT3 R race car pic: www.favcar.com
996 Turbo drawing: le me.